What so­ci­ety con­dones af­fects fu­ture

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - LEO LYNCH For­mer JP, Ben­ton County

The news­pa­pers con­tinue to cover sto­ries and ques­tions con­cern­ing Arkansas’s jour­ney into the un­known area of mar­i­juana avail­abil­ity for pain re­lief. It ap­pears there are nu­mer­ous ar­eas to be clar­i­fied be­fore the many forms of the drug are ac­tu­ally avail­able. Only af­ter these ar­eas are re­solved will we be­gin to see the real ques­tions about med­i­cal use of the drug de­velop in the work­place. Hav­ing watched it af­fect the lives of many of the peo­ple I worked with, it is dif­fi­cult for me not to see it as a close cousin to our prob­lem with other pain re­liev­ing agents, the opi­oid fam­ily of drugs.

A Prince­ton Univer­sity econ­o­mist named Alan Krueger re­cently re­leased the re­sults of a 15-year study he com­pleted which tied the use of opi­oid pre­scrip­tions to Amer­i­can men’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the work­force. He re­ported that nearly half of men in their prime worker age that are not in the work­force take pre­scrip­tion painkillers daily. The causes of this trend can be ques­tioned de­pend­ing on where you stand on the is­sue. The ef­fect on your own work­place ex­pe­ri­ence cer­tainly af­fects your view on the whole is­sue of pain con­trol drugs whether mar­i­juana or opi­oids or home­made metham­phetamine. The study ap­par­ently doesn’t solve the ques­tion of which came first, the drug or the ab­sence from work.

My per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence in the ef­fects of su­per­vis­ing em­ploy­ees who used mar­i­juana il­le­gally tells me it is not far from the (maybe) ex­ces­sive use of mar­i­juana re­lated to the like­li­hood of an in­dus­trial ac­ci­dent. It is not recorded for any­one’s study but see­ing em­ploy­ees go from the “plea­sure or recre­ational” use of mar­i­juana to the use of opi­oids af­ter a se­ri­ous ac­ci­dent like the loss of a fin­ger or hand oc­curred on my watch. It is dif­fi­cult to mea­sure the ac­tual out­come of these ac­ci­dents be­cause the tragic ef­fects last for years. Los­ing a fin­ger or a hand or other per­ma­nent in­juries are bad enough, but be­com­ing ad­dicted to the painkiller dur­ing the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion stage is even more tragic. It is not fun vis­it­ing these em­ploy­ees months later and re­al­iz­ing some are still deal­ing with the emo­tional as­pects of the loss plus the ad­di­tional prob­lem with painkillers.

The peo­ple who voted for mar­i­juana avail­abil­ity for medic­i­nal pur­pose be­lieve in what they sup­ported and that is prob­a­bly good. What so­ci­ety must deal with ex­ceeds the goal orig­i­nally es­tab­lished be­cause the next step in the process is le­gal­iz­ing recre­ational use in Arkansas. One can ar­gue that the use of mar­i­juana will ease the de­mands for opi­oids in some ill­ness sit­u­a­tions. Hope­fully that is true. How­ever, hav­ing ob­served the use of mor­phine in Fe­bru­ary to dis­guise the pain as­so­ci­ated with dy­ing, it seems to me we are sim­ply trad­ing one prob­lem for an­other. Whether one be­lieves that mar­i­juana can be­come ad­dic­tive is a ma­jor fac­tor in dis­cus­sion con­cern­ing the fu­ture of the drug for any use. Young users of the smok­ing form, il­le­gal where they lived but gen­er­ally ac­cepted by so­ci­ety, ar­gue it is sim­ply a fun drug. The ar­gu­ment could per­haps have been used by the Ori­en­tal so­ci­eties who re­lied on opium years ago. So much of the de­pen­dency on any drug is tied to so­cial ac­cep­tance and in­di­vid­ual emo­tional de­pen­dency that no sin­gle an­swer cov­ers ev­ery case. How­ever, I would of­fer that ques­tions about what is ac­cept­able in the work­place, pre­scrip­tion or not, will have a ma­jor im­pact on the abil­ity of com­pa­nies to dis­ci­pline em­ploy­ees us­ing the drug.

The stud­ies which found the heavy use of pre­scrip­tion ap­proved opi­oids keep­ing males from the work force may be on early in­di­ca­tion of a con­di­tion so­ci­ety might be cre­at­ing for it­self. We can never set­tle the chicken or egg ques­tion and may be al­low­ing our­selves to be led down a slip­pery slope de­sir­ing to ease the pain of the ill while set­ting our­selves and so­ci­ety up for a long-range de­cline in men­tal health is­sues. It was fairly easy to rec­og­nize an em­ployee was in­tox­i­cated with al­co­hol, but more dif­fi­cult to rec­og­nize the ef­fects of mar­i­juana when I was work­ing. What prompts peo­ple to re­sort to to­tal de­pen­dence on any mind-al­ter­ing drug varies from in­di­vid­ual to in­di­vid­ual and cir­cum­stance to cir­cum­stance. The use of home­made liquor or meth can be just as deadly in the hands of those un­able to con­trol them­selves or their cir­cum­stances as any le­gal form.

What so­ci­ety chooses to con­done and ad­ver­tise de­ter­mines the fu­ture of any prod­uct or the fu­ture of so­ci­ety it­self.

Ed­i­tor’s note: Leo Lynch, an award-win­ning colum­nist, is a na­tive of Ben­ton County and has deep roots in north­west Arkansas. He is a re­tired in­dus­trial en­gi­neer and for­mer Jus­tice of the Peace.

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